barber institute of fine arts
university of birmingham


German School

A Rhinoceros called Miss Clara

Flemish, 1750

Bronze

An enterprising Dutch sea captain brought a young Indian rhinoceros to the Netherlands in 1741 and then toured her extensively across Europe. As the first example to have been seen on mainland Europe since 1579, she caused a sensation. She was christened Miss Clara, and images of her were painted, printed, modelled in ceramics and sculpted in marble. Only two other bronze versions of this brilliantly characterful model are known, in the Louvre and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

During Black History Month 2018, this bronze was the focus of an alternative interpretation by UoB students in English, Drama and American & Canadian studies. They produced labels which interrogated artworks in our collection which depict, refer to, or have been collected from people of colour. This was a collaboration with the Barber’s Learning & Engagement Team; artist and poet Dzifa Benson; and Dr Asha Rogers, Lecturer in Contemporary Postcolonial Literature.

Here are two alternative labels below:

Miss Clara, Miss Clara, the Regal Miss Clara,
So prized and applauded,
That is the life of our dear Miss Clara.
From the walls of her home, she watches majestically
As the world marvels at her splendid decoration.
She has become a docile and sensible creature,
A beauty to be admired.
This is our sweet obedient Miss Clara.

A Rhino. A Rhino. I am a Rhino.
They took me and beat me,
This is the life that they forced upon me.
From behind the bars of my cell, I stare helplessly
As the crowd cheers at my dressed up broken body.
I am now crushed and warped,
A perverse ornament on display.
I am their defeated puppet in a cage.

Sabeeha Zahieer, BA English Literature.

The power of a bird,
Regal as a queen,
Unrelenting and upright.
Mother is strength
Queen Mother is supreme

But then.

Reduced to a common animal,
Body broken and bruised, bent,
Now only a crippled
looking thing,
Something that is never seen.

Two sides of the same rotten coin.
Two sides of the Atlantic,
Both screaming out a millennium of loss

Anon.

 

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